Ex-Collingdale official headed to trial in forgery case

Delaware County Daily Times
By Rose Quinn

ASTON — James Bryan can take his children to school three days a week and attend Gambler’s Anonymous meetings as he awaits his trial in the theft of more than $2.9 million for Wescott Electric Co., but he can’t go to Harrah’s Philadelphia Racetrack and Casino in Chester.

Bryan, a former Republican Collingdale councilman and longtime Collingdale volunteer firefighter, waived his preliminary hearing on multiple counts of forgery, theft by deception and related offenses Wednesday afternoon. He remains free on $500,000 unsecured bail, with conditions including GPS home-monitoring.

Authorities allege Bryan, formerly a project manager at Wescott in Aston, gambled away the millions he stole between 2003 and 2013 at Harrah’s, betting on sports games and buying lottery tickets.

Somber faced and smartly dressed, Bryan, 45, of the 800 block of Spruce Street in Collingdale, entered the straight waiver before Magisterial District Judge Diane Holefelder.

“Do you in fact wish to give up your right to a preliminary hearing and send your case to Media?” defense attorney Michael Diamondstein asked Bryan, the last in a series of questions to show the court Bryan understood the waiver and was acting without force or influence of drugs or alcohol.

“Yes,” Bryan responded politely, raising his bowed head just long enough to answer.

Representatives of Westcott were in the courtroom, as were two relatives of the defendant.

Once the necessary legal paperwork was exchanged, Diamondstein proceeded to ask Holefelder to address three “electronic monitoring” issues, beginning with his client’s wish to perform community service.

“The defendant is extremely remorseful,” Diamondstein said, later noting that Bryan’s wish to undertake community service would benefit the public.

Assistant District Attorney Brian Dougherty asked that any community service be subject to availability through the county-sanctioned program under Walter Omlor, and limited to 16 hours a week.

Moving on, Diamondstein then asked Holefelder to allow Bryan a few hours this coming Monday afternoon to attend his son’s confirmation, scheduled 3:30 p.m. at St. Joseph Church in Collingdale.

“Bail isn’t to punish people,” Diamondstein said, adding that his client has already proven he’s not a flight risk.

Lastly, Diamondstein said his client already takes his children to and from school each week on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and was asking permission to add Monday to the schedule.

Doing so would be “allowing him to take care of his children and his family … seems almost punitive not to allow him to do it,” Diamondstein said.

In response, Holefelder firmly noted that she did not need to be reminded of the purpose of bail. She went on to say that bail and any added conditions were in place to protect the defendant, as well as a victim.

“A victim has the right to walk around freely and not run into the defendant,” she said.

In this case, Holefelder said GPS-monitoring was set up to protect Bryan from “possibly hurting himself,” and now he’s requesting further exceptions.

Holefelder indicated Bryan is already permitted to attend Gambler’s Anonymous meetings, though there was not discussion as to how many meetings, or how often.

“In all honesty, what is the purpose of GPS monitoring?” she asked.

Holefelder paused and then announced her decisions.

“The Confirmation is not a problem. The child does not need to suffer,” she said.

Since the prosecutor had no issue with Bryan’s pursuit of community service, Holefelder said, “That’s fine,” subject to approval under the county’s Department of Community Corrections and the weekly 16-hour limit. “As far as the extra day goes, I’m not inclined to do it.”

The judge then reminded the defendant that he was not permitted to gamble in any fashion, more specifically “not to be free to go to Harrah’s or anywhere else.”

Bryan had no comment as he made his way across the court’s parking lot, less than a half-mile from the Wescott site.

According to authorities, Bryan began working at Wescott at the age of 18 and rose through the ranks. He was terminated in July 2013, soon after he was confronted about the finances, and began cooperating with investigators in August, according to charging documents.

In announcing Bryan’s arrest in January, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan said Bryan’s actions against Wescott not only “severely handicapped” the business, but he spent so much money playing cards at Harrah’s, betting on sports games and buying lottery tickets, “it was almost a full-time job” just for him to keep track.

Bryan “knowingly and fraudulently stole from his employer, depositing hundreds of thousands of dollars into his personal accounts,” Whelan said. “He took advantage of his position of authority and employer’s trust.”

According to charging documents, Jim Wescott, business owner, and Joe McColgan, business vice president, met with county investigators in July 2013, after Theresa Davidson, Wescott’s purchasing agent, “discovered a fraudulent invoice for copper wire that was never used or needed.”

Davidson told management she had been receiving similar invoices for an extended period of time, all without a purchasing order, which were submitted by Bryan, according to the affidavit of probable cause penned by Detective Michele Deery of the Delaware County Economic Crime Unit and Detective Joseph Nardone of the Aston Police Department.

The missing copper wire led to further internal investigation by Wescott, revealing additional thefts. Davidson reportedly located fraudulent business transactions that involved two companies. Though legitimate companies, checks were made out to the businesses for supplies on jobs that never existed. Checks disbursed on the bogus jobs were subsequently cashed in Philadelphia, according to documents.

The investigation also determined that additional checks were made out to a bogus business — owned by Bryan and his ex-wife, authorities said.

According to charging documents, the total theft from Wescott amounted to $2,919,361.50. Authorities said the actual amount is likely higher, since Wescott could not provide all business invoices for 2006.

A registered Republican, Bryan resigned Collingdale Borough Council on Oct. 7. Two weeks later, Whelan confirmed Bryan was the focus of an investigation.

Bryan was elected to borough council in 1994 and served as chairman of Collingdale’s finance committee for almost 13 years. He also served as the finance chairman of the Collingdale Republican Party and had been running unopposed for the borough’s magisterial district judge seat last May until this criminal investigation began to unfold. Prior to the November election, Bryan withdrew from the Republican ballot. Republican Gregory Loftus won the seat in a two-to-one margin over Bryan.

Bryan was also affiliated with Collingdale Fire Co. No. 2, serving as chief, and was involved with the Luke Bryan Foundation, a charitable organization named in memory of Bryan’s late son who died in 2005 at the age of 16 months.

Whelan previously said detectives found no reason to expand the investigation beyond Wescott.